“i stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking what can i do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther”
- Rupi Kaur
Some people diligently build the mountains, some people bravely climb them, and every once in a while you meet a truly extraordinary person who does both.
Norma Horseman is one of those people.
The first time I met Norma was in a Cree language course taught by her sister, who she had come to visit.
The next year, Norma came to the college again, this time as a student. But Norma wasn’t just any student. Born in 1956, she had already been a student of life for many years. A disabled, queer, Indigenous, 63-year-old two-spirited person… and a student.
It was almost beyond belief. Institutions had spent many years barring the door closed on the Norma’s of the world, but yet here she was.
With an insatiable passion for knowledge and a love for her people, Norma persisted.
She drove 40 min twice a day from her home on Horse Lake First Nations to school. Despite debilitating chronic pain, she walked through the halls with her backpack, from class to class, to on-campus, to class every day. When it rained, Norma showed up. When it snowed, Norma showed up. When a worldwide pandemic changed post-secondary on her yet again, she showed up.
Norma was not the kind of person who let the world stop her. She was the kind of person who made the world bend a little in her presence.
If ever there were a champion for Indigenous education, it would be found in Norma Horseman. For we cannot speak of the brilliance of Indigenous students without recognizing the systemic inequalities and barriers to access running parallel. We cannot talk about the Norma’s of our world, challenging norms and kicking down doors without wondering why they still must.
But despite all the hurdles and challenges, Norma kept going. She believed so strongly in the power of education and its ability to raise up the most marginalized in our society. She showed up everyday in her pursuit of becoming a lawyer, not only for herself, but for her community, and all the Indigenous students who were lucky to know her and see her persistence.
I wish I could tell you that her hard work paid off and that Norma walked the stage with that degree.
Sadly, Norma Horseman passed away on November 12th, 2021, after a short battle with aggressive, inoperable cancer after only one month of attending University-level courses. Norma never had the opportunity to walk the stage.
Norma’s story is so much more than whether she had a degree though. Norma’s story is one of resiliency, determination, path-paving, change-making, courage, and one that embodies Indigenous education.
Norma may not have walked the stage on her own, but she can walk it with each of us who carry her story as we do. Her legacy is a reminder of the power we each hold in our education. Her dream of using her education to create meaningful change for Indigenous people, one that lives on in each of us.
Norma Horseman was a disabled, queer, Indigenous, 63-year-old two-spirited person and student, and her story will never end as long as we continue to reclaim those spaces in her honour.
We stand on the mountain you helped build.
Until next time Norma,